We know the slogans: The road to the White House runs through Ohio. As Ohio goes, so goes the nation.
And it’s been true: 29 of the last 31 presidential victors also won Ohio. No Republican has become President without capturing Ohio, and party-line votes in the state often mirror the nation.
It’s a trend Cleveland native Kyle Kondik investigated in his 2016 book The Bellwether: Why Ohio Picks the President. While Trump’s victory by more than 8% in the state falls in line with the idea that Ohio usually backs the winner, it was out of sync with the national tally. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by 2.1%.
Kondik notes that since Ohio is less educated than newer swing states such as North Carolina and Wisconsin, it more consistently leans red.“The 2016 election did not support the case made in the book,” he says. “I would have probably argued against the idea of Ohio still being a bellwether state.”
But with this spring’s COVID-19 crisis, the presidential election feels up in the air. “The chances of November being poor for the President have gone up as a result of this crisis,” Kondik says.
With 18 electoral votes, Ohio is still the seventh biggest prize. We caught up with the chairs of Cuyahoga County’s Republican and Democratic parties to find out what the path forward is for their candidates.
Shontel Brown: Cuyahoga County Democratic Chairwoman
Brown takes Ohio’s perceived loss of swing state status personally. “It’s heartbreaking from my perspective,” she sighs. But she echoes state Democratic chairperson David Pepper, blaming Republican gerrymandering for stacking the deck. “It’s more rigged than red,” she says.
She believes presumptive nominee Joe Biden can lead a ticket pulling Ohio Democrats together. Her job is to inspire that unity — “On a scale of one to 10 in difficulty, it’s a 20,” she says — and to motivate minority voters, which she thinks can help regain Ohio’s swing state status. “You cannot overestimate the power of the black vote,” she states assuredly. “It’s the heart and soul of the party.”
Rob Frost: Cuyahoga County Republican Chairman
Frost pegs Ohio as a must-win keystone state to help carry Michigan and Pennsylvania for Trump. “You’re not going to see President Trump elected if he does not win Ohio,” says Frost. His game plan includes touting a strong economy (prior to the COVID-19 outbreak) to persuade blue collar Democrats who backed President Trump to re-up.
He’s also had a big head start raising money, mapping strategy and getting a team in the field. “[That] is a huge advantage, and it really helps having a Republican governor in [Mike DeWine],” Frost notes, adding a Democratic governor could use the state’s biggest political stage to bash Trump, and DeWine can send the GOP message.